Two important documents have been released by the Arts Council today.  The first is
This explains what the Arts Council considers as important and what they are going to do.  It starts with a summary of the situation, including this paragraph which rebuts the arguments of people who say libraries are naturally declining, stagnating or middle class:

“Although public libraries have seen a decrease in the numbers of people borrowing books, evidence shows that where there has been strategic investment – such as in promoting children’s reading – visits rise. And patterns of use are changing, with a significant increase in users accessing services digitally. Libraries have innovated in response, offering enhanced digital provision and actively promoting libraries as local social spaces which can draw in and support new users. Unlike museums or the arts, differences in people’s socio-economic status do not affect their likelihood of using a library; neither does illness or having a disability.” (p.9/10)

The Council makes very clear that they do not have large amounts of money.  In fact, they have far less than the old MLA and so are keen on things which save money while still continuing the service:

 “The Arts Council is keen to see museums and libraries continuing to innovate in their approaches to engaging with communities and making more effective use of volunteers; we are keen to see them working together to achieve this” (p.11)

This above quote shows, and it is a recurring theme in the document, the importance of Museums, Arts and Libraries in working together and learning from each other in order to spread good ideas and make the most of less money.  Similarly, the Arts Council is not against outsourcing, be it private or through trusts.  They especially like the idea of philanthropy:

“Museums and libraries similarly need to strengthen their business models, diversify their income streams and look at new ways of encouraging private giving and supporting enterprise. Likewise, they need to continue to explore new ways of collaborating and improving efficiency in order to thrive
not just survive.” (p.12)

The document lists five aims.  These are listed in colourful management-speak and would be relatively meaningless to show here in their original form.  However, a rough translation of the aims is:
  1. Funding new initiatives that show original thinking, especially if they will save money
  2. To get more people to use libraries
  3. To find ways of surviving with less council money
  4. A lessening in the dominance of white middle class staff
  5. Encourage more children in

The Council is keen on advocacy work for libraries and with work with the Local Government Group, Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals “to develop clear messages about the public value libraries can provide and a shared vision for the library service in 10 years’ time.”.  It is perhaps at least good to see that the Council thinks libraries will still be here in 2021.  For this year, though, the main activity, appears to be simply to continue with the Future Libraries Programme, which may cause some worries amongst those who do not highly regard it. 

It is worth noting that you can email your views as to what you think is important for the Arts Council to consider to  Get emailing.
The second document is:
As the title suggests, this is “simply” a tour of the current thinking and research on public libraries.  It does, though, give an idea of how the Arts Council is thinking and what it considers important and so deserves to be reviewed here.
The Council is more than aware of its lack of funding and so is keen to do more with less.  It is also, somewhat endearingly, also aware that it does not know everything about the field, stressing again and again the need to work with others.  Perhaps with such a budget, it realises it cannot do much else.
Something which may be worrying is the deep desire shown to embed Libraries in the same framework as Museums and the Arts.  A warning bell here may be chiming with some.  Libraries are as much to do with education and literacy, with council services and even social services, as they are with the Arts and they may not fit in as snugly with the local museum as some of the text suggests.  For instance:

“In the long-term, we expect that Arts Council England will not have separate strategies for museums, libraries and the arts. We will use the same framework to drive all of our programmes and inform all of our funding decisions.”

The Arts Council may find out that One Size Does Not Fit All.  It may also be a breath of fresh air to the public library service or, perhaps most likely, fall somewhere between the two. 
A lot of familiar ground, as would be expected in a review, is covered such as noting the decline in book lending and visits over the last few years (although it does note that this has stabilised recently).  It also notes that “The public see libraries’ core purpose as being about reading, learning (particularly for children), and finding information. Beyond this, awareness of the wider range of library activities is low.”.  There is though one encouraging sign for the many who fear outsourcing/privatisation of libraries may continue to be on the agenda:

“One lesson on the components for excellent library services that can be drawn from the literature is that it is important for libraries to continue to provide a neutral, shared public space for users. The public have high levels of trust in libraries, which is partly rooted in the assumption that libraries provide a more impartial source of information than alternatives such as the media.”

However, it fails to make a connection between this and the following…

“Public libraries have very low levels of funding diversification and relatively high levels of alternative business models such as procurement  partnerships across library authorities, which over 80 per cent of library authorities have, and co-location with other services, which over 60 per cent do (DCMS, 2009). They are unlikely to have tried more extreme changes to their business model, such as having commercial subsidiaries or independent trusts.”

Another nail is hammered into the “Libraries are Middle Class” coffin with this:

“Since the libraries sector already has representative numbers of visitors from the DCMS target groups of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, people who have a disability, and those from lower socioeconomic groups, the literature focuses on the more general question of how to encourage more people to use libraries.”

It is possible to read much of the report without realising that libraries are facing the deepest funding crisis in their history.  This is quite common in official documents which have often have an almost psychotic desire to be upbeat and to see every problem as an opportunity.  Only in a few passages, does the confident smile slip to show a worry.  For instance, the lack of faith librarians have in the public (possibly read: councils and the government) valuing their skills is raised.  It notes “These issues are seen by librarians to be partly due to the ongoing financial constraints of libraries, which have changed the
ways that libraries are managed”.  Which is one way of putting it.
This post is only a very cursory analysis of the reports and, as such, should be treated with caution.  It is too early, really, to tell what the future holds for the the Arts Council and libraries. 
Perhaps the only message that can be taken is – Read “Culture, Knowledge and Understanding” if you want to know roughly what the Arts Council thinks the future holds (and if you want to put in a budget bid, taking very careful interest) and read “Review of research and literature”  for an idea (if perhaps sanitised) of what the Council thinks are the main issues affecting the sector.